Thursday, June 25, 2009

2008-12-04 -

Of Montreal performs Friday at The Venue

Of Montreal with, from left, Dottie Alexander, Davey Pierce, Bryan Poole, Ahmed Gallab, James Huggins and Kevin Barnes, perform Friday at The Venue. Of Montreal with, from left, Dottie Alexander, Davey Pierce, Bryan Poole, Ahmed Gallab, James Huggins and Kevin Barnes, perform Friday at The Venue.
Published: Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 at 2:22 p.m.

James Huggins has his hands full. The multi-instrumentalist in the indie-pop band Of Montreal must juggle an ever-growing list of responsibilities - not to mention instruments.

Of Montreal
What: Indie-pop band from Athens, Ga., performs with Fiery Furnaces and Fire Zuave
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: The Venue, 233 W. University Ave.
Tickets: $16, must be at least 18 years old to enter.

With the October release of "Skeletal Lamping," the group's ninth studio album, Huggins and company have embarked on a tour that has taken their neo-glam stage show to new heights and their music to the biggest audience of their career.

"It's been an experiment that I think has gone very well," he says. "There are a lot of changes this time around, and we're doing, by far, our biggest production in an increasing series of big productions, but this one takes the cake by a landslide."

That tour brings the group to The Venue on Friday.

While the band's first few efforts followed a more standard band format - guitar, drums, bass and keyboards - the intervening years have seen Of Montreal become much weirder and more distinctive, culminating in "Skeletal Lamping," an intense, often-jarring album that was created by stringing together dozens of short bits of songs into a few overarching pieces.

Through the process of performing those songs, Huggins has become the ultimate utility man, switching between bass, drums, keyboards and other instruments at a dizzying pace, all while wearing a costume that would make David Bowie proud.

"I have to adapt to it," he says, "which means I will be picking up and putting down as many as four instruments in one track, and that track might only be two minutes long."

Perhaps it is fitting that Huggins' job has become so much more challenging.

While "Skeletal Lamping" has been the band's most successful album yet, it is by no means an attempt to appease fans. The album is just that: challenging.

"It was challenging for me," Huggins says. "I didn't even like it for the first several weeks. Now, I feel like it's second nature and it makes perfect sense to me, but it took dozens of listens."

Those repeated listens were for more than just kicks. Beginning with 2004's "Satanic Panic in the Attic," front man Kevin Barnes has increasingly taken the reins of the band, recording the last four albums almost entirely by himself. Thus, Huggins literally had to listen to the album like an ordinary fan - as a piece of finished work - and then learn and perform all of its songs.

"It's a very slow, natural adaptation we've had to go through," Huggins says. "For me, the performance has little to do with songwriting or initial creation of the material. I just think of it as acting. I'm still an actor, but I have a script."

For better or worse, the formula seems to be working. The band struggled in virtual anonymity for years until the Barnes-helmed "Satanic Panic" brought them an audience that has grown exponentially with each successive Barnes-helmed album.

"To be perfectly honest, it wasn't some sort of big surprise, it was more of a relief," Huggins says. "It took 10 years to even get to a mild cult-indie status. We were going to keep doing it either way, but it makes it a whole lot easier to have people supportive of it and to be able to slightly make a living off of it.

"It makes it easier for us to really take it all the way, which is what we're doing, I hope."

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